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Tell the truth

4th Oct 2012
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I didn’t intend to begin this series with a bit of moralising – and I’m not really sure where it’s come from, and yet when you begin to think about what really matters in business some moralising does not go amiss.

I’m well aware that there are many who think morals and business do nit mix. I’m not one of them. For me business is all about trust. You can write contracts until the cows come home and candidly they’re not really worth the paper they’re written on. When things are going right everyone pretty much ignores contracts because they usually record lowest common denominator stuff and everyone is trying to do better than that when things are OK. When they’re going wrong then candidly no contract I’ve yet seen can predict where or how people will screw up and as a result whatever fails is rarely predicted and is without a remedy in the contract.

In that case, important as contracts are (and I’ve spent countless hours on them) I think trust is more important. I still deal with people on the basis of looking them in the eye and deciding whether or not they mean what they say. In that case telling the truth is just about the most important thing I value in business.

Just do it. Don’t think twice about it. Tell the truth.

If you’ve ever worked with habitual liars (I have – the sort who didn’t even know they were lying and do it so easily they didn’t even bother to recall what the lie was) you’ll know what a nightmare they are. My advice is simple. If you work for one, leave. If you contract with one, get out as soon as possible. You can’t ever win with such people.

You can always win with people who tell the truth. They admit their mistakes. They tell you how they’re going to put them right. They deliver on time, and if they’re not going to they say so which means you can manage the delay. They stick to their price. If that causes them massive embarrassment they’ll tell you why. Their cards are face up on the table.

In a word, they deliver.

It’s true of staff, suppliers and even customers (I like the ones who say they’ll pay in 30 days and do).

The benefit for them is enormous: you go back to them time after time after time to ask them to do more (although in the case of employees they’re finite – so you promote them instead).

So you win business by being honest. It’s as simple as that.

I demand it here. I tell people when they’ve failed me. I’m clear about it: I say when people don’t seem to be telling me the truth and that I expect nothing less. I offer it in return. I make clear what the price of being dishonest with me is: it’s that we’re going nowhere. That’s happened. Staff, suppliers and customers have all gone for that reason. I have no regrets about that, at all. But I still do, I admit, have occasional moments of deep shame about incidents in my career before I learned that lesson. Like everyone I have things I’d like to re-write. I’m clear, the dishonesty was not criminal or anything like that. But certainly when I was younger I did not live up to the standards I now set. I regret that. I can’t put it right now. But I can make sure I don’t do it again.

I can’t say how much of our success is down to our reputation for straight dealing. I can say I created it. The ex-CEO certainly did not share it. I know it is appreciated. It’s made us money. I think that’s a by-product though. Sleeping at night is the best achievement. Then you can enjoy the other benefits of doing well. 


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Replies (5)

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By paulwakefield1
05th Oct 2012 08:04

What a cracker of a post

It captures my thoughts far better than I could ever do including, regrettably, shame about matters in the past.

The comments about contracts, trust, habitual liars  - all strike a chord.

There are still plenty of fundamentally honest businesses out there thank heavens though sometimes a few need a gentle nudge when they start to nestle up to the boundaries. :-)

As Mark Twain said: When in doubt, tell the truth


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By ShirleyM
05th Oct 2012 09:55

The boy who cried wolf

We are deceived so often these days, and often by the very people who should 'protect us', that it is becoming difficult to believe anything unless we have experienced it for ourselves.

I will always look to do repeat business with someone who has been 'straight' with me and delivered what they promised.

Likewise, I like a have a clear conscience myself, and I value this more than the riches that can be gained by conning or deceiving people .... I'd be useless at it anyway :)


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By cbbcbb
07th Oct 2012 16:45

Hear Hear!

I'm one of the people that have learnt over time that it is better to be deceived than deceive. It's just that my conscience is fundamental to my way of living. Thankfully I'm not deceived very often; there are usually signs before commitment that all is not right.

Sad that too many see "putting-one-over" someone else as a triumph rather than a cause for shame. Especially the accountants trick of not following agreed payment terms is shameful, and just makes two organisations less effective, wasting time contacting and chasing.

Keep up the good work.

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By dl
17th Nov 2012 00:22

Cards face up or face down in negotiations?
I agree with this post.

Does the line become blurred during negotiations? I'm a "cards in the table" kind if guy when I negotiate, I just say what I want realistically and hope my honesty will lead to the other side being honest and then we can have an open debate

BUT, I bet you there are better negotiators than me out there who keep their cards close to their chest and get better deals.

So does honesty mean being open?


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By velayudh
17th Nov 2012 05:55

Honesty is the best policy- Telling the truth is no different

Excellent piece and does strike a chord.My opinion on those who are habitual liars are those with burning ambition and/or greed coupled with jealousies and trying to be beyond ones' own capabilities not to say of being corrupt.

I have had a direct experience of working under a highly ambitious boss with little knowledge/experience about the sector in which we were involved. Plus he was highly insecure. He was taken in only because of his previous experience in a multinational company. So, while taking him on board, his interviewers were impressed more with the company he had worked for than his own attributes as a top manager or his fitment.  He tried to bluff his way through meetings with the Top Management and with his subordinates used terror tactics. This was highly stressful for us as he was continously committing impossibilities to the Top Management. Net result: the company lost its high performing team and this guy was left high and dry and he was found out. But the whole episode had left a bad taste and was highly stressful.

Whether at home or at office the atmosphere should be of celebrating and rewarding truth and honesty. It also requires good amount of guts to face truth squarely.

Suffice to say there are no two sides to truth!!!

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